Do parties and voters care who is low on party lists?

A question I often have regarding proportional electoral systems in which parties present ranked lists is whether or not anyone really cares about the candidates that receive very low ranks. In systems in which lists are party-ranked–i.e. any list-PR system that is not fully open–for all but a locally dominant party, the large majority of candidates nominated are certain not to win a seat, regardless of how well the party performs.

Given that so many candidates will not be elected anyway, would parties take care in the composition of their lists below the slots from which they may elect candidates, and would voters even be aware of who is on the list?

From the Czech Republic comes a story that suggests “yes.”

The Green party has asked the election commissioner to delete two candidates from one of its lists for the upcoming (2-3 June) general election. One of these candidates was ranked last on the list in the district, and the other fifth. The district in question is Moravsko-Slezsky (in which the main city is Ostrava), and its district magnitude is 23. However, the Green party is very small in the Czech Republic, having won no seats at the last, 2002, election. Thus, even in such a large district, a Green nominated at the fifth position is surely not a “serious” candidate.

The party wants the candidates removed because one publicly reported a brawl between the other candidate and the husband of another party official, brining a whole new dimension to the idea of intra-party conflict. [Read full story]

I should note that in the Czech Republic, voters can cast intraparty preference votes. So it is not a closed list. However, the quota of preference votes required to change the party-provided rank order is quite high, and very rarely do candidates vault over other candidates ranked higher by the party. Thus it is not an open list, either, as that term should be reserved for systems in which preference votes are the sole determinant of the final list order. The Czech system is in the category of the “flexible” list, though in practice it is not very flexible in any meaningful sense.

Does the mere existence of preference votes even in the Czech (in)flexble list make parties more sensitive than would be the case in a fully closed list to the personal reputations of candidates (such as those who get into brawls)? I wish I knew the answer.

0 thoughts on “Do parties and voters care who is low on party lists?

  1. Does the mere existence of preference votes even in the Czech (in)flexble list make parties more sensitive than would be the case in a fully closed list to the personal reputations of candidates?

    Wouldn’t we expect the opposite? In a fairly flexible system, if one candidate did something unpopular he would be punished individually by the electorate. But in an inflexible system as in the Czech Republic, any voters who care about the candidate’s actions can only retaliate by punishing the party as a whole. So I would think that in the inflexible case, parties would be more likely to punish candidates for their misbehavior.

  2. This time around the greens are polling above 10 percent (notably, Havel has said he plans to vote Green). Having repositioned themselves for a broader centrist appeal emphasizing cleanness and competence (also weakening their programmatic credentials), their greatest weakness seems to be internal squabbles of which this is the latest example.
    That said, I think the same type of pressure would probably have arisen with fully closed lists — if the concern is that the events had “had damaged the Greens seriously” by the negative publicity (and not simply that they would prefer better quality candidates for a given list place).
    If the expectation is that their behavior will detract from the party’s reputation and most members’ success derives from the that reputation, there is good reason to be concerned. If preference votes were a greater determinant of members’ electoral success, that might actually lessen their sensitivity to the public behavior of other members.

  3. Havel a Green? Well then I am liking him more all the time!

    And I have always liked him, except when he vetoed that bill to restrict smoking in pubs–though I must admit in doing so he was upholding the manifest preferences of a constituency that he is very closely identified with: the denizens of the (in)famously smoky Czech pub!

    Anyway, very interesting points, Vasi and RAC, on the greater impact of candidates on the collective reputation of the party when preference votes do not much matter.

  4. A reader comments: “Why not allow a party to “protect” x number of candidates and then have the remaining number of candidates elected via open list? Doing so would assure that high-ranking caucus members and minority candidates are able to hold office while still offering voters an acceptable degree of choice.”

    Does any jurisdiction do this?

    As to the Czech Greens worrying about a candidate ranked last on the list in the district, experience with a flexible list in Belgium has been that, if anyone will break the slate, it’s likely the last name on the list. Do Czech Greens talk to Belgian Greens? Very likely. Do Belgian voters reward underdogs? Might Czech voters do the same?

  5. How would the last-ranked candidate be the one most likely to break the list order in Belgium’s flexible lists?

    As for whether any jurisdictions ensure election of some candidates, but the become open at remaining list ranks, I am not sure if such a hybrid exists, but it is something I have thought of. Some flexible lists might work this way in practice, though I am uncertain.

  6. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

  7. The incident of the two low placed Green candidates excluded was more a signal to voters that the party was under decisive and effective leadership (of ex-environment Minister Martin Bursik) in the face of widespread accusations by opponents that the party was indisciplined and disunited, rather than a narrowly focused judgement about the mechanics of its electoral list.

    On Czech preference voting – it does work. In 2006, as always, several low placed candidates have leapt into parliament this way. Such candidates are often celebrities, local politicians with grassroots support or favourites with rank and file party members. Green leader Bursik was overtaken by the 2nd placed Green candidate on the Prague list – a human right activist beaten up by police at an anti-fascist demonstration, which received huge publicity- but luckily for him elected any due to the size of his party’s vote in Prague

  8. Sean, thanks for the interesting note on preference voting. As for your first point, “list mechanics” (i.e. the balance of candidates on the list, their rank, and their personal characteristics) are indeed means by which party leaders can send signals about the reputation of the party as a whole (or of the leadership itself).

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